Level playing field keeps fans on edge of their seats

PUBLISHED : Monday, 26 March, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 26 March, 2012, 12:00am


They came in their most outlandish outfits, they drank, they danced and they partied. But this year, the fans couldn't take their eyes off the pitch.

There were no cricket scores and few one-sided games. Every match was like life or death after the International Rugby Board split the tournament in two. The crowd sensed it. So did the players and coaches.

Triumphant Fiji coach Alifereti Dere, who first played here in 1989 and captained his team to titles in 1990 and 1991, said he'd never seen an atmosphere like the one that greeted his squad this weekend.

'For the teams the pressure is never off and I think the fans can feel that, too,' he said. 'You can't expect any easy games here anymore and no one wants to miss any of the action.

'I told the young players in my squad they will never have experienced anything like Hong Kong but this year has surprised me, too.'

Canadian coach Geraint John was celebrating after they won a qualifier and regained core status. 'Looking around this weekend you can see that everybody loves it. It's pretty nerve-racking and I think you saw that on the first day when there were a lot of results that probably didn't go the way people expected,' he said.

Spain coach Jose Ingnacio Inchausti said: 'The change in the way the event is played was very important to us. It gave us a chance to qualify for the world series and that really means something, and it will really mean something to the people back home.

'I'm delighted for the players and delighted for Spanish rugby. After so many years' work we have finally managed to get there,' he said. 'It's like a revolution. It's a tremendous step forward for Spanish rugby and we now have to go back and look at our set-up.'

For Australian banker Russell Thomas, the annual Sevens pilgrimage has been given a new lease of life. 'It's always been the biggest event of the year for me and one I haven't missed since 1985,' he said. 'I'm a rugby tragic and I used to use the blowout games to go and fill up on beer, but things have been so close this year I have even had to cut down on my drinking.'